Coffee Hour

Explaining White Privilege

 “When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression”- Franklin Leonard

With everything going on and with many opposing views on how to go about protesting, along with stupid comments with regards to “All lives matter” there is a lot of discussion around white privilege. It is a term that many white people don’t like because they feel it paints them, specifically, as instigator and creators of racism. It causes a lot of arguments and confusion centred around playing the blame game which stops meaningful discussions taking place, which is why I feel like I need to break it down for anyone who doesn’t understand and there are quite a few people who don’t.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that every white person is not materially privileged. We know this. There are plenty of ordinary white people who are disadvantaged, either financially or socially, so I understand that the word ‘privilege’  can be misleading. But white people, even those who feel, or who others feel, to be the lowest of the, have the privilege of being judged ONLY for their wealth, your education, your experiences, and social connections. Their skin colour plays no part in how they are judged and perceives.

If you, as a white person, can walk into a store and not be followed around, it’s because your skin colour immediately seems to tell people that you are trustworthy, reasonable, smart and honest, even if you are not. So, your white skin is an inherent advantage to you. But a black person may not be able to walk into the same store without being followed, checked, and accused of theft, even, and sometimes especially when, when are innocent, because, in our society, their skin is an inherent DISadvantage. The same qualities of goodness, honesty, decency are not attributed to black skin in the western world as they are to white skin and European features and heritage, therefore white skin, and white people have a privilege of existence that black people do not.

That does not necessarily mean that as a white person, you are conscious of this advantage. We acknowledge that given the society we live in you can’t help but benefit from your heritage and skin tone, but if you really want to be able to say that you are ‘not racist’ and that you are a morally upright person, you need to acknowledge that the society we live in favours you, whether you have asked it to or not. 

You can scream all you want that you have no privilege, but by failing to recognise the way Western societies favour white people, you are doing one of two things: you are either being ignorant about how the society in which you live it works, and just as a member of that society you need to rectify that; or you are saying that you and those who look like you are not above the standard (the privilege), but you are in fact THE  standard, and any good treatment you get in life is entirely deserved, and by saying that you are saying that anyone who doesn’t look like you is at a justified disadvantage because they will never be able to meet that standard. Both of these reasons for lack of acknowledgement only promote the white supremacy that you are trying so hard to claim that you don’t have. Even disregarding racism is in itself an act of privilege that other races cannot boast because racism directly affects them.

So when people point out to you, that you have white privilege, that does not mean you as an individual are racist or that your life has not had some struggle in it.  But what it does mean is that you’re your skin colour is not a contributing factor to those struggles in the way that it is for those who do not look like you.

If you want to really claim that you don’t like your privilege, you need to acknowledge it and then and use it to actively try and dismantle it within you wider community, even if it is only on a small scale such as putting black children in lead roles in school plays, if you are a teacher, for example.

White people can walk into stores and not be suspected of stealing. They can walk into public spaces and not be assumed to be trespassing. They can live in nice houses, and it is not suspicious. They can have wealth and not be questioned on how they acquired it. White people can commit crimes and get away with them, and white mothers can worry less about whether their children will come home from the shops every day. Black people cannot boast those privileges.

We know that individual, small scale white people, our teachers, our next-door neighbours, shopkeepers did not create the institutionalised racism that enables white supremacy, but if you are going to say you are committed to a fair world, you need to recognise that when we get into these discussions, we are not calling you racist or ‘upper-class’, but we need you to recognise your privilege in order to begin dismantling it. If you have no interest in that, whether you have a massive influence over social change or not, you can’t call yourself an ally- you are complicit. Because being white isn’t wrong, being a recipient of, and benefiting from, white supremacy is in and of itself, not wrong, but when exercising your right to oblivion is. Because you are deliberately using your white right to Ignorance, obliviousness, impartiality, rose-tinted glasses, optimism and blinkered vision, to colour your world in all your chosen hues of fairness and beauty, thereby erasing the experiences of those who have had family taken from them, been killed, or lost their homes because of their skin colour. And that selective blindness is in itself, is luxury that we, as black people, will never be able to afford. So yes, you have white privilege.

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